Objective: To identify risk factors, particularly circumcision status, associated with serological evidence of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection of heterosexual men.
Design: A cross-sectional case-control study employing an anonymous delinked interviewer-administered questionnaire, clinical examination, and a type-specific serological test for HSV-2.
Participants and setting: Three hundred consecutive heterosexual male patients at a public sexually transmissible diseases (STD) clinic in Sydney, Australia.
Main outcome measures: Associations between serological evidence of HSV-2 infection and history of genital herpes or contact with genital herpes, history of other common STDs, and demographic and behavioural factors such as age, education level, number of sexual partners and lack of circumcision.
Results: One hundred and ninety-four patients (64.7%) had antibodies to HSV-2 but only 24% of these gave a history of genital herpes. A history of genital herpes or sexual contact with genital herpes, reported total lifetime number of sexual partners, failure to complete high school and a history of non-gonococcal urethritis or genital warts were associated with serological evidence of HSV-2 infection at the univariate level. Neither increasing age nor lack of circumcision was associated with HSV-2 infection. Following multivariate analysis only the lifetime number of partners and failure to finish high school were significantly strong predictors of HSV-2 infection.
Conclusion: This is the highest prevalence of HSV-2 infection ever detected in an Australian population and one of the highest recorded globally. As younger men were as commonly infected as older men, and an earlier (1985) study involving the same clinic yielded a lower prevalence, it appears that a high level of ongoing HSV-2 transmission is occurring among Sydney heterosexuals. Increased awareness of this fact could enhance safer sex campaigns.